CLASS #1
Defining /owning the business proposition and positioning
1.0 How to begin story-telling and brand building
Storytelling isn’t a new marketing idea. It’s an old concept that is still valuable today. In fact, in the rise of Brand Building as a core part of the growth engine. It’s more important than ever.

It’s hard to tell a good story. The right story. The last thing you want is a ‘vanilla’ story that doesn’t work for anyone.

People will only connect to the truth and what feels real. As a marketer, you won’t be able to retrofit a business narrative if it’s not genuine.

We’re going to help you go deep on some key issues:

  • Why the business started?
  • What is the market shift and why is that interesting?
  • What are your key beliefs?
  • What is the CEO’s / Founder’s personal journey?
  • What are the key business milestones?
  • Which genuine human stories are hidden in the business?
  • Why you need to build a like-able brand?
  • How brand is often neglected?

Storytelling is not branding. Storytelling is the truth. It’s the reason behind you existing. It’s the passion of what you want to change in the world.

It’s important to note that in most startups, the product is your story at the beginning. That’s fine to an extent. But many marketers forget to focus on the challenges being solved, the customer and context of why the product is needed (not the features). What’s interesting to note is that, as you scale, the evolution of your story veers away from the product and moves toward the company story.

Ultimately, you should opt for a powerful story that resonates with everyone in your business. And the external audience. A story that lasts, that speaks about the business values, what challenge you are solving and why people should care and can clearly differentiate you in the market.
The foundations of brand

1.1 Reading: resisting the pressure to deliver too quickly
Storytelling isn’t a new marketing idea. It’s an old concept that is still valuable today. In fact, in the rise of Brand Building as a core part of the growth engine. It’s more important than ever.

It’s hard to tell a good story. The right story. The last thing you want is a ‘vanilla’ story that doesn’t work for anyone.

People will only connect to the truth and what feels real. As a marketer, you won’t be able to retrofit a business narrative if it’s not genuine.

We’re going to help you go deep on some key issues:

  • Why the business started?
  • What is the market shift and why is that interesting?
  • What are your key beliefs?
  • What is the CEO’s / Founder’s personal journey?
  • What are the key business milestones?
  • Which genuine human stories are hidden in the business?
  • Why you need to build a like-able brand?
  • How brand is often neglected?

Storytelling is not branding. Storytelling is the truth. It’s the reason behind you existing. It’s the passion of what you want to change in the world.

It’s important to note that in most startups, the product is your story at the beginning. That’s fine to an extent. But many marketers forget to focus on the challenges being solved, the customer and context of why the product is needed (not the features). What’s interesting to note is that, as you scale, the evolution of your story veers away from the product and moves toward the company story.

Ultimately, you should opt for a powerful story that resonates with everyone in your business. And the external audience. A story that lasts, that speaks about the business values, what challenge you are solving and why people should care and can clearly differentiate you in the market.

Resist the pressure to deliver something instant

Instead, manage your stakeholders effectively. Explain the value of what you’re setting out to do.

Don’t be tempted to deliver a new brand narrative in just a few weeks. Create a strategic plan or process for drawing out the real story.

A well crafted story both lasts longer and is worth more than a rush job. The most impactful brand propositions take time. Plus, if you get it right, it is the leverage to your long term success. It creates and molds the clarity of everything you do — from go-to-marketing, demand generation, content, sales enablement and much more.

Create a plan of action

To uncover the real insight in your business, you’ll need to interview a good number of people — both internal and external. In fact, at minimum you need to speak with your customers and understand ‘why they choose you’ or ‘what was different about your brand/ proposition’.

Example Questions to Ask Customers

1. “Take me back to the day when you first decided to solve this problem; what was the trigger to take action?”
2. “What really changed in you or the organisation?”
Note: Key is insight into the trigger moment
4. “What did you do first to understand what providers to consider?”
5. Observation: Look for content they find useful, words, messages and language.
6. “What did your peers tell you that was helpful to you, when looking to buy this product category (what did you learn on the internet and your own research)?”

Your goal is to be useful to the buyer in this process — think of a way to embed education into the call or insights that provide another touch-point experience with your business.

An important link is building the proposition with alignment to internal culture. This will help bring the brand to life. You’re looking to match the brand narrative to the internal culture.

You’ll be able to do this by understanding people on the ground. That means talking to senior and junior members of staff alike. What values do they have? What do they think the organisation’s values are?

Get a wide understanding of what the brand means to individuals:

  • What brought them to work for this business?
  • What is their understanding of what the brand is?
  • What are their beliefs about the work they do?
  • What are their beliefs on differentiation and positioning?
  • How do they talk about your business?
  • How do they describe what you do?
  • Is the language feature/ function or customer led?
  • How easy is the brand/ proposition to understand?

Finding a set of commonalities during this process is important. Look for prevalent messages or beliefs. But if that doesn’t happen, you can still create a great narrative.

  • Work out who the core stakeholder of the narrative is (it might be a CEO, or across the leadership team) and get their buy-in.
  • Investigate and be clear where the business would like to be in 2, 5 and 10 years — what is the compelling vision to build the story?
  • Marry this future vision to the current reality: a happy medium will embody both the truth and the future outlook?

Some people might not get the point of storytelling

That’s fine. If someone’s job focuses on product or sales, they might not understand the value of storytelling. Their focus is the product benefit to the end user. A classic mistake of scaling tech businesses is their over-reliance on the “technology” — all content and positioning is focused on the product. You need to shift your thinking. You need to think about what the market is interested in. The problems you solve and customer needs.

The language of your narrative needs to fit into that position. Do not lead with product features and get too technical — nobody cares. The customer cares about the story, the outcome and value. Your customer doesn’t care at all about your company, your story, your brand, or even your product. What they do care about is what it can do for them. Embrace this point.

As you forge the narrative, don’t forget to include this thinking in the process.

Your narrative will forge an emotional connection with the end user. Coach sales leaders and sceptical C-suite members, make them understand the value of message, not just product, in marketing.
1.2 Homework
This section is designed to help you forge an amazing story and build your thinking on the value proposition. First, I’ll suggest some activities you can do yourself to get into the right mindframe.
Next, we’ll look at stakeholder involvement. Finally, there’s a workshop template to get you going.

You can also look at appendix 1.1 ‘How to craft a story’ for a narrative template that works every time.

Self

Avoid the temptation to look at the competition.

Avoid the pressure to deliver a revamped narrative ‘quickly’.

Instead: get in the mindset that this is a long-term, strategic position.

Brand is making a huge comeback in B2B. Outbound marketing and demand generation still matter, of course. But a powerful brand narrative that connects and resonates is hugely valuable. Read Peter Thiel’s Zero to One book if you do not believe this to be true. He states that Brand is one of the four key pillars of creating a monopoly in your market.

Plan your attack properly.

  • Which stakeholders do you need to speak to?
  • When can you book time with these individuals? Create a timeline.
  • What outcomes do you need to achieve?
  • When is a realistic and achievable deadline for this?
  • What are the key milestones? Micro-milestones?

Think of this as a campaign process, or a detailed project plan you need to deliver against. Have a process.

Take your time, plan thoroughly and involve everyone you need to. The more methodical and in-depth your approach, the better.

If you rush, the end result will be vanilla, and need constant revamping. It will not provide the foundations for a deeply meaningful proposition.

Stakeholders

Every brand project includes different types of stakeholder belief sets.

You might have a CEO who believes in brand.

You might have a CEO who isn’t bothered, and values sales or short-term activities instead.

If your C-suite loves brand building,show them a vision of where you want to get to. You’re going to create a special narrative for our market.

  • Suggest that your approach will get into the detail and this takes time to get right — but the end result will be a thorough overview of the brand position and GTM proposition.
  • To get there, explain you’ll need to work internally, uncovering important cultural insights.
  • You will develop deep external insights from customers or prospects. You will work to bring the internal and external into alignment for the truth.
  • From there, you’ll have a hypothesis to test, with the input from the CEO.
  • Even with a CEO who buys in, you still need to emphasise the seriousness of this project. Build confidence using the detailed plan. Getting into the detail and demonstrating you have the “right approach” is crucial for success.

If your C-suite aren’t sold on storytelling, position the value of the project very carefully, offering compelling reasons and a clear business case for brand building. Brand Marketing is now more important than ever. Demand Generation has stolen the limelight over the past 5-7 years to the detriment of the brand. I do believe the respect is now shifting back towards the brand.

The reason being is that a brand can 10x leverage your demand generation results, in a world of competitive markets with similar features; your brand can be the real differentiator that influences B2B purchase decisions. Look at the fastest scaling businesses in SaaS. You will notice the investment and effort into brand marketing.

Ideas to help influence your leadership team.

  • Offer hard facts on storytelling and why it’s important.
  • From the base of that, prove the upside of doing it properly and spending longer.
  • You’re going to deliver something deeper and more meaningful, that will provide a platform to understand audiences, personas and clarity on sales strategy.
  • Help them understand the difference between short-term Sales Activation and long-term Brand Building. With both streams required to run in parallel.

Getting stakeholder buy-in before you begin any programme is 99% of the battle.

Spend the time explaining to those around you why this activity matters, and it will matter further down the line. Skip this step, and your execution in building the story, brand narrative and value proposition will be ineffective.


Workshop template

This workshop can be used with any internal stakeholder group. For efficacy, we’d recommend no group is bigger than 6.

Outcome:

An output of beliefs for each of the participants.
A vision statement.
An understanding of purpose for each individual in the room.

Structure:

A. Introduce the purpose of the brand story — links with commercial benefits (see 1.3) and longevity of business narratives that resonate with the customer.

B. Ask individuals to summarise their key beliefs around the business:
  • What is their understanding of the key values in the business?
  • What is their interpretation of the business purpose?
  • How do they see the current brand?
  • Detail prospect/ customer feedback to the group.
  • Get members to self-actualise and reflect whether they believe the brand is ‘customer led’.
Collate these findings on a whiteboard.

C. Correlate findings together — matching up similar points and making suggestions around themes that emerge. Take a picture. Go away and build this into a mind-map or a brand proposition template.

D. Ask individuals or groups for their feedback on themes that emerge
  • Do these themes resonate — if yes, find examples from day-to-day to support.
  • Have we missed anything — what other issues might also feed in?
  • Do the outputs match customer feedback and a customer led narrative?

Decide on next actions and how you will piece together the thread of the narrative. Be clear on what they will expect as an output. Which should be at minimum initial thinking on the brand architecture, high-level story and proposition to market. Remember to remind all stakeholders you are looking to really understand the challenge you solve for the customer and how you link to that.

Your brand should not be about how great your product is and the features. These are a sub-component of what helps your brand develop through the customer journey and value to users.

In order to create a real impact, I often recommend treating internal projects as if you are external. In this case pretend you are a brand consulting company. They get hired to build detailed and granular brand narratives. Your goal is to do the same. A real focus on the outputs of the project and treat your CEO as the stake-holder who commissioned the project. Your end goal is to pitch to your CEO.

How do you take a story from meaningless to meaningful?

The answer is depth.

Look for numbers, statistics and customer proof points. Link these back to your corporate narrative. Find use cases and customer stories. These are critical components of the thread that link your story into a consumable proposition.

With brand the biggest mistake when building the story, proposition, messaging architecture and language boils down to depth. The depth at which you have uncovered insights internally, externally and broader market. I repeat that getting into the details is crucial. Unfortunately, most marketers or revenue leaders do not get into the details enough to build a truly resonating brand story and proposition.

Credibility factors (especially at mid-market to enterprise SaaS) are crucial to attracting leads, closing more deals and winning over competitors.
1.3 Reveal a hidden problem they did not know about
You can use this trick to help you to build persuasion and tension into the sales process.

When it comes to brand and storytelling, a lot of people might be sceptical. ‘How will brand narrative actually drive revenue?’ Marketing can really help make sales easier if they develop an impactful commercial insight in the value proposition.

Here’s how to wow the sceptics and offer value to prospects at the same time: we’re going to figure out exactly how the brand connects to sales.


Put commercial insight into the very essence of your brand story.

  • This makes the narrative impactful internally and externally.

  • The concept was first outlined in Lean B2B (2015).

Look for a point of tension in the marketplace.

  • Typically, most prospects think they already know what they need.

  • You’re going to find a commercial pain that prospects aren’t aware of and weave it into your brand story.

  • You will go even deeper by supporting this uncommon commercial insight with specific statistics.

  • Now your brand resonates, and teaches prospects something about the challenge they’re facing.
1.4 Homework
Finding the right commercial insight isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile.

You’re looking for a prospect problem or market tension that isn’t top of mind. Don’t copy your competitors by using something very straight-forward that lacks depth. It’s easy to find an obvious commercial insight. Look to research an insight that people would be surprised to see. An insight that will shift their way of thinking about the challenges and opportunity to change.

It should be something that occurs later in the sales conversation, that prospects might not think is key. You’re going to prove this is a vitally important business issue.

Here’s a process for finding that nugget:

Speak to the people closest to the customers.

That might be your customer success team, or your sales team.

These guys might be busy. So befriend, and educate them on the importance of your work.

That might mean explaining the sales outcome — ‘You can expect 10x if you help me do this.’

Ask good questions and look beneath the surface of customer success:

  • Obtain data on the scale of the benefit of your solution — what statistics and numbers of challenges do your customers have?
  • Has a customer surprised you with any outcomes? Engage the customer and draw out the story if you can.
  • What’s a common challenge that other people don’t know about?
  • What questions do customers keep asking you? If possible, do your own research to draw out the percentage or numbers involved.
  • If this was solved, how would it affect the customer revenue or lower costs or improve productivity? What would it deliver to the business?

Very soon you’ll have a much deeper understanding about the market. Listen for an insight that isn’t well known, that isn’t top of mind or that is commonly forgotten.

Go back and weave this into your brand narrative.

In my experience, this attention to detail on the commercial insight will make or break the impact of the brand story. It makes a world of difference.
1.1 How to Test brand hypothesis

1.12 Reading: how to know if your brand hypothesis works
Once you’ve followed steps 1.1-1.3, you’ll have a clearer brand output.

Now, it’s time to test that.

Begin by training your sales team, marketing team and product team in the new brand messaging. Gather the teams together and present the narrative over a series of weeks.

Continue to test out the ideas on the C-suite to obtain candid feedback.
I’d recommend using a clear structure to find out exactly how it resonates.

How will you know if your brand hypothesis works?

  • From a sales perspective — expect sales conversations to start moving faster. If your narrative resonates with the end user, the velocity in customer conversations will indicate this. If the ideas work, you can expect to see more cross-sell and upsell within 60 days. The wider market reaction might take 3 months.

  • From a marketing perspective — your marketing team will be more excited, enthusiastic and clear about what content they’re producing. Finding the right business narrative will motivate the marketing teams, creating more momentum and a clearer focus on propositions.
1.12 Homework: Test the brand message
A process for testing:

  1. Present your narrative to internal teams, gauging excitement for clarity of message
  2. Go to your extended network (peers at your level or company investors) and present the updated narrative, testing for points of resonance.
  3. Test with the CEO and see if they’re responsive. If they listen carefully, without interrupting, you’ve nailed it. Expect feedback for refinement.
  4. Launch a weekly feedback session with sales. Encourage salespeople to use the narrative on prospect calls. How are they feeling about how the story resonates? What gaps are there?
  5. Collate the data — look at sales patterns over 30 days. Are there more cross-sell opportunities? Has marketing created more MQL’s? Have customer replies and response times gotten shorter?

This should give you an overall picture of the performance of your business narrative.

It’s also a crucial opportunity for those in closest contact with the customer to test and feedback any areas for improvement.
1.2 Building the Brand Narrative Framework
Now is the time to build the output of the framework. This is crucial in how to pitch internally and get sign off for the proposed narrative. You will look to build a horizontal positioning statement with several tranches beneath. These tranches will be sub-messaging, verticalised offerings, GEO (if you sell to different geographies) messages and/or product services specific.

Here is an example of what that looks like:
What you’ll need to create a messaging framework:

  • First, using the process outlined in earlier lessons. Map the content to the stages of the proposition funnel. You need to create the Mission, Value Proposition, Positioning Statement, Slogan and Elevator pitch.
  • Now second, you want to create a message map highlighting and pulling together the collective messaging from earlier work. This message map should include all the pillars of the proposition — the solution, the market, the product benefits and campaign concepts.
  • Once you have the top-line messaging established. Now is when you should create the sub-messaging or campaign messages. This can be represented by having the horizontal brand pitch followed underneath by how many boxes you need with specific messages related to specific segments (vertical/ market/ GEO / campaign). Remember, the thread of the segmented messaging must align to the horizontal positioning. Otherwise you will not create a united thread throughout the narrative arc.
  • Extra additional value to present lies in the form of functional to emotional narrative. What I mean here is, at this point most of the work you will have done will have broadly been functional outputs (especially if you are in B2B). This is the additional step to create an impactful end result. My advice here is break down all your messaging into what it means to the persona on an emotional level — yes an emotional level. Even in B2B it is crucial to understand that how you affect people with your brand is by forming an emotional connection.
Here is an example of what we mean:
Do you know what is the most often missing ingredient in a sales message? It’s the sales message that doesn’t tell an interesting story. Storytelling... good storytelling... is a vital component of a marketing campaign.
Gary Halbert, Direct marketer

This quote is important because unless you do all the foundational brand proposition and narrative build. You will fail to create an amazing story that draws out something special in how you start marketing campaigns and selling in the field.

You need to tell transformational stories... to inspire, change the game and define our category. The vision gives your business a purpose, inspires customers and rallies teams.
You need to tell campaign stories... to drive customer acquisition and retention. They are a mixture of thought leadership, experiential and product driven content.
And you need to tell tactical stories… to take existing content and tell it in a more meaningful and in-the-moment kind of way.
1.3 How to Brand Launch Anticipation

1.31 Reading: how Mailbox created massive anticipation around a launch
Mailbox was a free email management application launched in 2013, designed for iOS and Android by Orchestra Inc. Although not an enterprise B2B solution, reflecting on their story is important to how you can launch your brand or products to market. Even in enterprise B2B!

In the weeks before it was available to download, Mailbox gathered 382,000 reservations. Upon its launch in February 2013 Mailbox quickly became the most downloaded app of the year.*

How did they achieve this?

  • The brand product launch campaign built massive anticipation in the weeks before launch.

  • Announcing the future of email, the queue system encouraged fans to sign up for a waiting list.

  • The company then emailed individuals with a number in the queue. This simple anticipation campaign spread virally.

How can you build that suspense in the marketplace?

  • Seed anticipation through your CMO or CEO — use social media to build anticipation via content.
  • Tell your customers about what’s coming — get them bought in, excited and looking forward to it.
  • Consider an unorthodox approach — Mailbox ‘gamified’ their waiting list. Could you make this wait a little more fun for your audience too?
  • Build and implement a product launch framework. Most people do not do this well. Another neglected piece of planning which ensures success.
1.32 Homework: Testing the impact of new messaging
You’ll need to consider what items to deliver upon launch. For a new brand you can think of a unique angle, for an established business this is the product launch process linked to the brand messaging. For each item, consider the three questions below.

  1. How can I use this to seed anticipation into the marketplace?
  2. How do I build a Product Launch Framework that scales?
  3. How can I involve internal and external stakeholders, making them feel part of the process?
  4. How could I do this differently? Remember the Mailbox case study — taking an unorthodox approach can create huge amounts of brand traction.

A new brand narrative will impact a series of areas across the business.

When I have updated the brand narrative of companies in the past, I’d look at each area of the business that needed this to be embedded:

  • Marketing
  • Create a timeline of when assets are being delivered — build a plan of what’s happening when, phasing over several months
  • Videos, product launch, case studies, updated website narrative
  • Overhaul the brand look and feel — redo everything that needs updating
  • Sales
  • New sales decks
  • New sales training
  • Sales certifications in brand narrative — certifying every salesman
  • C-Suite
  • New corporate messaging deck
  • C-Suite training
  • Customer persona / vision statement for internal use

Further Resources:

HEY Email App Launch Review:
https://thestartupchat.com/ep519/

SuperHuman Email App Launch Review: https://firstround.com/review/how-superhuman-built-an-engine-to-find-product-market-fi
1.4 Using the brand narrative to create the sales deck
Final piece of the puzzle. Now turn the brand message, proposition and content into a revamped sales deck (PS: you may need more than one sales deck based on verticals you operate and personas).

A favourite article, which gets referred to each time I build a deck is called The Sales Hacker Deck On Sales Decks: Learn How To WOW Your Prospects And Convert! Read the article here.

What this article teaches you the following about building a sales deck:

  • First and foremost, that personalisation is paramount to an impactful deck. If you have different personas, buyers or markets it will determine your approach. Yes it’s fine to build a generic deck to begin with (hey you have to start somewhere!) but you need to go further.

  • Segmenting the buyer by type is critical. The article mentions the different structure needed when presenting to the CxO, practitioner or user of the product. The CxO will be more led at the big change and opportunity. The practitioner / buyer will want to get into the product detail. It’s the same if you are selling to 2 different audiences i.e. Customer Success may like a deck structured very differently to a product person. If you don’t cater for these differences you are ruining the effectiveness of the sales deck.

  • Content order is important to different personas.

  • Design is a big factor. Less words. More story. And spend the time to train sales in learning the flow of the story rather than reading off lines in a deck. You may have to create a version which has more words, if used in the context of emailing buyers with the sales deck.
1.41 Homework: Building the sales deck checklist
To build the deck you need to do the next actions:

  • Signed off brand narrative, proposition and story.
  • Structure the deck with blank slides.
  • Build the narrative from the language used in the narrative detail.
  • Test the order/ flow with VP sales/ marketing team.
  • Build out the overarching story of the slides — less words on the slide but more in the notes.
  • Agree design hypotheses for the deck.
  • Decide how many versions you will build — pick the order of highest priority i.e. persona, or market.
  • Now, iteratively build each version as a phased deliverable. Work iteratively until you have the final version. Attain constant feedback.
  • Final approvals from key stakeholders.
  • Test the deck with current customers; create a feedback loop.
  • Bring it all together into a final or final set of decks.
  • Prep sales team on an all-hands of what’s upcoming with the new deck — get them excited.
  • Demonstrate competence by presenting and training sales with the new brand position and sales deck story.
  • Arrange 1:1 follow up sessions to check the language has landed, sales/ people are clear and understand how to present.
  • Test sales/ marketing on their understanding. Get them to present it to you.
  • Throughout launch and in the coming weeks/ months. Seek feedback from pitching, sales and customers. The sales deck is never done!!!

Owning the brand story, proposition, content and sales materials is a vital deliverable for you, the marketing leader. Reflect each month on how well it is performing and never stop looking for tweaks and improvements.
You have reached the end of Lesson #1 — CONGRATS!

For more content on Brand Building please go to www.edwinabl.com. We will now move on into section 2 which covers demand generation, channels and campaigns.
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